Lately, I’ve noticed that when people tell me they’re traveling to Spain, it usually includes only a Madrid/Barcelona trip. While Madrid and Barcelona are great, they don’t fully capture the spirit of Spain. I keep wondering why people rarely venture south. Maybe it’s because no one knows what beauty awaits in the south? I’m here to entice you to either skip or add on to a trip to the big cities and discover the white villages of Andalusia.
What are the White Villages?
Andalusia’s charm includes whitewashed villages, flower-filled courtyards, sprawling olive groves, rolling mountains, picturesque cathedrals, ancient mosques, and Moorish castles. The white villages are the true essence of Southern Spain. Most of these white villages are on top of mountains and distinguish themselves from other towns by medieval castles and enchanting churches.
These little villages have a rich history. Andalusia was a melting pot of Christians and Moors in the 13th to 15th centuries. The white villages were the frontier of the Christian and Muslim kingdoms. While most people of both religions lived peacefully together, as you can see from the Mezquita de Cordóba, the villages in this region had to prepare for conquering armies. They built their white villages mostly on top of mountains to easily defend their towns. At over 2,000 feet (610 meters) above sea level, these villages offer quite a view.
While it’s hard for big cities to retain the charm and history of the countryside, Andalusia's white villages are the places of poets and dreamers. Click To Tweet It’s here that you can really see and understand the true spirit of Spain, its people, and the ways of life. Step off the beaten path and travel the White Villages Route, visiting the small mountain villages and enjoying the natural surroundings of great beauty.
The White Villages Route
The white village route is one of the most beautiful itineraries through Andalusia. There isn’t just one “White Village Route,” but many possibilities. While you could drive through the Sierra de Cadiz mountains in a day and see the beautiful white towns from afar, it’s best to make this a 2-3 day journey and stay in a few towns along the way.
A white village route could start in Malaga and travel north to Cordoba, east to Sevilla, south to Cadiz, and back to Malaga. Most of the white villages are in the mountains of the Cadiz province, but there are white villages all around Andalusia. Although towns in the Cadiz mountains are sparce, you can’t miss the white villages that pop up, with a medieval castle adorning the highest point.
Some of the best white villages to plan for your itinerary include Ronda, Setenil de las Bodegas, Olvera, Algodonales, Arclos de la Frontera, El Bosque, Ubrique, Grazalema (and in that order for a perfect loop). Of course I’m partial to Olvera, having lived there.
If you can afford a longer visit, venture up to Osuna in the southeast Sevilla province. It’s a beautiful white village with a rich history, a large bull ring, and a famous historic university. It was also a filming location for you Game of Thrones fans. Also consider heading south to Casares in Malaga, famous for its white sugar-cube houses nestled under an Arab castle, all piled precariously high on a cliff. It’s also only 9 miles (14.5 km) from the coast.
Between the villages, you’ll pass through rolling hills and olive groves as far as the eye can see. Make sure to pick up some local Andalusian olive oil during your stay in olive country. If you can make it as far west as Jerez, try the sherry, made from the white grapes that can only grow here.
Where to Stay
All of these villages have at least one hotel. With the towns so spread out, it’s important to make sure visitors have a place to stay in each place. Ronda is one of the bigger villages, with a little over 36,000 people. With a hotel overlooking a deep gorge and architecturally incredible New Bridge, Ronda invites a longer stay.
Olvera is one of the white villages that marked the division between Islam and Christianity. It passed back and forth between Muslim and Christian rule a few times. It then became a haven for criminals and debtors who would have their debt to society removed if they remained in the town for a year. Today, it is a protected area of artistic and historical importance dedicated to agriculture, forestry, and animal husbandry.
Olvera is also the beginning of the 23.6-mile (38-km) Via Verde, a path around the mountains that ends in Puerto Serrano. You can walk, rent a bike, or even ride a horse along the beautiful natural trail.
El Bosque is the gateway to the immense natural reserve, Parque Natural de la Sierra de Grazalema (Natural Park of the Grazalema Mountains). It covers 207 square miles (53,500 hectares), and you can get information about the park in the center of El Bosque.
Finally, Setenil is one of the most unusual villages on the White Village Route. Rather than being built on top of a mountain like it’s counterparts, Setenil grew out of caves and tunnels. The town is quite literally built under the mountain. This is cause for many interesting and gravity-defying abodes. The hotel in Setenil is one of the dwellings built under the mountain!
Have you been to Andalusia and seen these white villages yourself? Do you plan to go in the future? I’d love to know how you felt after seeing these amazing gems!
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